The Secrets to Success (In School, In Life)

My latest article for Northside Woman (August, 2011)
As parents, we are hardwired to tender advice to our children: how to study, what to eat, and bon mots like “if someone says ‘hey, watch this,’ run for cover.” (When you’re young, someone’s about to land in the principal’s office. When you’re an adult, someone’s about to lose a limb, land in jail, or both.)
When parents need guidance, we turn to books, a pediatrician, or a parenting expert. But what if the people who have life all figured out are the ones who —if left unattended —would substitute milk with Mountain Dew, consume a sugar-only diet and sleep on the floor in a mass of dirty laundry? Nope, not your husband. Your children.
A few months ago I visited Mrs. Snow’s fifth grade class at Creek View Elementary School to lead a writing exercise. I supplied the students with fill-in-the-blank sentences prompting them, as veterans of elementary school, to impart advice to upcoming fifth graders.
What I unearthed in the stack of wide-ruled, backpack-weary notebook paper, in the midst of warnings regarding the hazards of passing gas in the classroom (mentioned on nearly every paper) were smart, thoughtful, heart-felt gems of advice that apply not only to a successful tenure in grade school, but also to the school of life. See if you agree.
At lunchtime:
·         Never eat anything with the word “surprise” on the menu.
·         Chicken sandwiches, tacos and macaroni and cheese are always a safe bet.
·         Avoid unidentifiable processed meats, that is, hot dogs.
Regarding teachers (adults — substitute ‘bosses’)
·         Always answer a teacher’s question to show you are paying attention.
·         If a teacher frowns, freeze.
·         If a teacher tells a joke, laugh.
Choosing and keeping friends
·         Make lots of good friends so you don’t become a hermit.
·         If someone tells you to duck, duck fast.
·         If someone pulls the fire alarm and there’s no fire, they won’t make a good friend.
On smart habits
·         Work hard so you’ll make good grades.
·         Don’t wait until the last minute to work on projects. It’s stressful and won’t be your best effort.
·         Be organized.
·         Drink water throughout the day.
As for Mrs. Snow, her students are thankful to her for a number of things, including inspiring creativity, teaching them to respect others, and showing them they are smart. And capable.  Which proves excellent teachers who see the potential in every child do more than make a difference — they are game changers.
The kids also offered advice to their parents on how to help them be successful in school, which can be summed up in one word: relax. Which loosely translates to: have a little confidence — we’ve got this.
I couldn’t have said — or written — it better myself.
Amy M. Dawson is a writer and public relations strategist who upheld rigid standards to avoid embarrassing her daughter while volunteering in the classroom. She blogs about work and life at

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